Frankfurt Wrecking Ball Night (Crystal Cat Records CC 1013-15)
Commerzbank-Arena, Frankfurt am Main, Germany – 25 May, 2012
Disc 1: Intro, Badlands, Wrecking Ball, Out In The Street, Death To My Hometown, My City Of Ruins, Spirit In The Night, The E Street Shuffle, Jack Of All Trades
Disc 2: Youngstown, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Johnny 99, Working On The Highway, Shackled And Drawn, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, Summertime Blues, The Promised Land, The River, The Rising, Lonesome Day, We Are Alive
Disc 3: Thunder Road, Rocky Ground, Born In The U.S.A., Born To Run, Cadillac Ranch, Sherry Darling, Glory Days, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Bonus Tracks: Prudential Center, Newark, NJ, USA – 2 May, 2012: Bishop Danced, Talk To Me, The Weight
I have already reviewed Crystal Cat’s IEM/audience release of the second Paris show and another IEM/audience matrix is the source for Frankfurt Wrecking Ball Night. The show was the fourth at the Commerzbank-Arena, formerly known as the Waldstadion and home of football team Eintracht Frankfurt, the others having been played in 1985, 1988 and 2009.
Referring back to that last occasion, the Backstreets website writes that, “three years ago, ‘Badlands’ opened Springsteen’s show on a warm Friday evening in Frankfurt; three years on, he again blasted off with ‘Badlands.’ From the first few bars you could sense a power and passion that would permeate an amazing evening.” The performance of Badlands is indeed explosive and we hear it after Springsteen and the E Street Band have taken the stage to the strains of Elmer Bernstein’s theme from the classic western The Magnificent Seven. Wrecking Ball ensues, followed by a slightly sluggish though nonetheless crowd-pleasing Out In The Street and a strong performance of Death To My Hometown. Backstreets writes of the next three songs:
“‘My City of Ruins’ was very poignant, and following it with ‘Spirit in the Night’ and ‘E Street Shuffle’ really showed the song’s roots, highlighting Bruce’s ability as a soul performer as well as an out-and-out rocker. Both of those early tracks were a real treat and certainly pulled the heartstrings of the more ‘experienced’ Bruce fan.” The superb performance of The E Street Shuffle was the first in Germany. The slow waltz of a sublime ‘Jack of All Trades’ following hot on the heels of ’70s funk was a pleasant shift; this song worked surprisingly well in a stadium and was particularly resonant in a Europe in recession.”
Disc two kicks off with my favourite song from The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Youngstown, in a slow and powerful version culminating in a terrific guitar solo from Nils Lofgren, of which TheDuffco, posting on YouTube, writes, “Nils’ Gitarren-Spiel war der Hammer !!!” It is followed by an excellent rendition of Darkness On The Edge Of Town, a song which benefits enormously from Springsteen’s more mature, rather world-weary vocals. Of these and the succeeding number, Backstreets writes that, “‘Darkness’ and ‘Youngstown,’ forming a thematic arc, were tremendously powerful…’Johnny 99′ maintained the economic theme but lightened the mood with a rock ‘n’ roll big band feeling that had the whole crowd jumping.” TheDuffco reckons that,” das war eine der besten Live-Versionen die ich bisher gesehen habe.” Working On The Highway, with its acoustic guitar intro, is followed what Backstreets calls a “raucous” Shackled And Drawn, “with some fine vocals by Cindy Mizelle.” Waitin’ On A Sunny Day contains the usual vocal slot for a child from the audience and it is followed by tour premiere Summertime Blues, played by sign request and receiving its first German performance. A stirring The Promised Land is followed by a beautifully poignant version of The River. The usual strong performance of The Rising gives way to Lonesome Day before an excellent rendition of We Are Alive concludes the second disc.
Unfortunately, the set closer, what Backstreets calls a “truly inspiring” performance of Thunder Road, is just too long to fit on to disc two and so kicks off the third disc. The “never-ending encore” begins with what Backstreets justifiably calls, a “marvellous” Rocky Ground featuring, “another great cameo from Michelle Moore.” It was non-stop party time thereafter. “The encore was truly a whopper,” in the words of Backstreets, “with eight songs including a brilliant ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ that shook the fillings of our teeth. The summertime feel was further lifted with the tour premieres of ‘Cadillac Ranch’ and ‘Sherry Darling’ and a rip-roaring ‘Glory Days’ before heading back into the standard ‘Dancing in the Dark’/’Tenth Avenue’ pair to close.” Cadillac Ranch and Sherry Darling, both tour premieres were played by sign request.
This concert was the longest of the tour so far. Backstreets sums up the show by arguing that, “Bruce simply delivered one top-notch performance after another. A phenomenally long set at 30 songs (including three tour premieres) and around 3 hours and 20 minutes had us yet again in awe of the man and his now hugely expanded band.”
There is still room, however, for three bonus tracks from Newark, NJ on 2 May, Bishop Danced, Talk To Me and The Weight. Of the first song, Christopher Phillips writes on Backstreets:
“‘Bishop Danced‘ was a stunner. It may not be the most obscure of obscurities (it was officially released on Tracks, after all, in a live version from 1973 at Max’s Kansas City). But it’s close, with the shock value and long odds against its performance right up there with ‘Song for Orphans’ in Trenton ’05. Bruce hadn’t performed the song in nearly 40 years, and never with the full E Street Band. And unlike the meandering ‘Song for Orphans,’ this one wasn’t just cool in theory. Arranged for the full band, ‘Bishop Danced’ was a blast, stretching out with multiple violin and accordion solos from Soozie and Charlie, Curtis rocking the washboard.”
After a wonderfully enjoyable Talk To Me, played by sign request and enhanced by the contribution of the horn section, the third disc concludes with a tremendously moving rendition of The Band’s The Weight, played by sign request as a tribute to drummer and vocalist Levon Helm, who died in April 2012. Although the song is credited to Robbie Robertson, Wikipedia writes of its particular associations with Helm:
“The inspiration for and influences affecting the composition of ‘The Weight’ came from the music of the American South, the life experiences of band members, particularly Levon Helm, and movies of Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel…The colorful characters in ‘The Weight’ were based on real people members of The Band knew, as Levon Helm explained in his autobiography, This Wheel’s on Fire. In particular, ‘young Anna Lee’ mentioned in the third verse is Helm’s longtime friend Anna Lee Amsden, and, according to her, ‘Carmen’ and ‘Crazy Chester’ were people from Helm’s hometown, Turkey Scratch, Arkansas.”
Phillips writes of the performance (which has previously appeared as a bonus track on Godfather’s Seekin’ Shelter From The Storm):
“…we know the E Street Band is unstumpable, but it was still astounding that they were able to pull off this beautiful, confident tribute with so little notice. Bruce started on acoustic, soon Soozie added fiddle, Garry joined in, Charlie on organ, the horns…Max, Roy, the whole band making it happen and making sonic space for each other. And of course, they had plenty of help from the crowd, the whole darn place singing along on the chorus.”
The main show, as stated above, is an IEM/audience mix and the sound is high quality, though not perfectly balanced. On the Stone Pony London message board, mr-soul’s take on the sound quality is as follows:
“So, how about the sound quality? Well, friends, it’s a gone one! IEM/audience sourced, and with Bruce’s vocals and guitar where they should be: blasting out of the speakers. Less [sic] horns and female backing vocals than the Paris2 CC [though I felt that the horns on the Paris release were a little recessed at times], less compressed than Gothenborg2. Max’ [sic] drums seem to dominate the sound, and that’s a good thing. After all, he is the driving force behind this E Street Orchestra. His metronom [sic] ticks on quite a few tracks, but nothing to stop you from listening. So, a great concert now available in superb quality.”
It is often Weinberg’s cymbals rather than his drums which are inordinately prominent at many points, and some listeners may find this a little distracting. “In fact a good one,” is the opinion of dvd_dubbing-guy, who has been very critical of Cryystal Cat’s sound, “though much too less [sic] audience in my opinion the live feeling ain’t there enough IMHO…” Mr-soul goes on to say of the bonus tracks that, “The Weight sounds wonderful, Talk To Me loses some of the vocal strength, but Bishop Danced is pure joy in this IEM quality.” Another poster, Flynn, asks, “are the Newark tracks also IEM sourced?” and dvd_dubbing_guy responds simply, “no,” and, though I am aware of the existence of more than one audience recording, I know of no circulating IEM source. The sound is excellent, and a CD release of the whole show would be most welcome.
Frankfurt Wrecking Ball Night comes with Crystal Cat’s usual stellar packaging. The three discs are housed in a thick jewel case with photos from the show on both sides of the front and rear inserts, and the track listing on the back of the rear insert. There is also a 28-page booklet with numerous photos from the show, track listing, list of band personnel, the review from the Backstreets website, and some notes on the bonus tracks, also drawn from Backstreets. There are also two pages of photos of Clarence Clemons, with the legend, “In memory of Clarence Clemons.” There are two further inserts. One is a tri-fold insert with opens up to display an panoramic view of the audience inside the venue; on the outside there are further relevant photos including shots of audience members outside the venue, a stall selling T-shirts and an aerial view of the stadium; the other, single-sheet insert shows the setlist on one side and the view from Springsteen’s microphone on the other. All are printed on the usual glossy paper. The discs themselves show three different shots of Springsteen onstage.
With a highly enjoyable main show, an excellent choice of bonus tracks, impressive sound and magnificent packaging, this release makes for a worthy companion for Crystal Cat’s marvellous, and already-reviewed, Paris Wrecking Ball Second Night.